Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the celebrated, 28-year-old Democratic nominee for Congress in New York’s 14th district, appeared on PBS’s Firing Line reboot last week to discuss herself.
The conversation was a broad overview of Ocasio-Cortez’s positions on capitalism, education, and foreign policy. One widely circulated highlight was Ocasio-Cortez’s reference to the “occupation” of Palestine, which host Margaret Hoover asked her to clarify. She responded by saying that she supposed she was referring to the Israeli settlements in “some of these areas,” which make it difficult for Palestinians to access “their housing and homes.” Hoover asked for a fuller explanation but got only Ocasio-Cortez’s demurral that she was “not the expert on geopolitics on this issue.”
So much for that. Unfortunately, this wasn’t simply the one scar on an otherwise flawless performance. Most of the time Ocasio-Cortez opened her mouth only to change feet.
She began by summarizing the principle of the Democratic Socialists of America, of which she is a member: “No person in America should be too poor to live.” That’s hardly distinctive, being the objective of everyone save the Objectivists. But from there, Ocasio-Cortez, not even halfway down the road of life, wandered confused through a dark forest of misinformation.
From this principle she deduced the goal that every American have access to health care (good), housing (good), and college education (non sequitur). Hoover, after agreeing on the goal, asked Ocasio-Cortez why she thinks democratic socialism is the proper vehicle for achieving it. She answered that DSA is the only organization that is actively pushing for universal health care and college.
Now, that may be true, but it was not an answer to the question Hoover posed. Hoover wanted to know why Ocasio-Cortez thinks that the economic mechanisms of democratic socialism are the best devised for delivering the desired results, not whether the DSA is more explicitly socialist than, say, the Tea Party. The candidate essentially said, Democratic socialism is the best way of giving us free college because democratic socialists are the loudest in demanding free college. That is the logic of a demander but not of an implementer.
Next she explained of herself and her fellow Millennials: “We never experienced, really, a time of true economic prosperity in the United States.” That is true if you omit the years from 1991 to 2001, which produced the single longest period of continuous GDP growth in the history of America. Ocasio-Cortez at that time was perhaps too young to notice, and she was 18 at the onset of the latest financial crisis, but that simply means that her dour review of the economy is based on the happenstances of her life rather than on the data.
She then offered the following explanation of the current low unemployment rate: “Well, unemployment is low because everyone has two jobs.” No. That would make sense if the unemployment rate were calculated by asking businesses whether their jobs were filled. But the Bureau of Labor Statistics actually calculates the unemployment rate using the household survey, which asks people whether they have a job. The answer is Yes whether you work one job or seven. (The establishment survey, directed at businesses, is used to determine job creation but not unemployment.)
(Aside: Here she made a claim that the motto of the present “no-holds-barred, Wild West hyper-capitalism” is “Profit at Any Cost,” an oxymoron.)
Hoover then asserted that capitalism has lifted more people out of poverty than any other economic system in human history, and out came the “dialectic” we had awaited. Ocasio-Cortez responded that this progress is “part of the course of human evolution.”
Ocasio-Cortez is not actually a socialist. She is a proponent of an enormous welfare state and confiscatory taxation.
“I would hope,” she said, “that the most recent economic system, our current economic system, is the one that is most beneficial for everyday people.” As economies “evolve” by becoming more automated, however, we need to make sure we don’t “throw those people away.” She did not explain how having workers own the means of production — the long-stated socialist goal — would save them from that fate.
Hoover proceeded to ask: “In the context of democratic socialism, then, do you think it calls for an end to capitalism?” This is not a question one would ask a true socialist. It is like asking a monarchist whether he thinks the present democracy will have to stop when the king takes power. What Hoover and everyone else seem to understand is that Ocasio-Cortez is not actually a socialist. She is a proponent of an enormous welfare state and confiscatory taxation, which still preserves the distinctive capitalist feature of private ownership of industry.
But we needn’t split hairs. Moving on, we follow Ocasio-Cortez into her demands for free college and trade-school education, necessitated by our “evolving” economy. The interview was only half an hour long, but she failed to mention what this free college education is for. What are the jobs in this “unprecedented” new economy that financial Darwinism is producing? What skills do people need to keep up with this economy? We don’t know, and we get the feeling Ocasio-Cortez doesn’t, either. One doubts that a slew of gender- and sexuality-studies degrees will allow the working poor to prosper in the forthcoming automated era.
On finally to immigration. She made a good point in noting that we should consider the humanitarian consequences of military involvement in foreign countries, which might create an obligation for the United States to accept the refugees displaced by the conflict. She went on, however, to complain that “we have always legislated from a place of ‘How do we exclude?’ and ‘Who do we exclude?’” We could, of course, also ask whom to include — that’s the same question. Immigration policy consists precisely in deciding which people to admit and which people not to admit. We could admit all of them, we could admit none of them, we could select using various criteria. Rather than declare her position, Ocasio-Cortez explained how important low-skilled workers are to the economy that, as she has just finished telling us, is hemorrhaging low-skilled jobs to automation.
That roughly concludes the syllabus of errors. The fresh face of the Left was far from impressive. She has been carried this far by sentiment rather than by her command of the issues. While that is the vogue today, she’ll have to study harder if she wants to avoid being dismantled by a knowledgeable conservative in the future.